Posted in Christian fiction, Short story

In Everything

 

In everything

© Folakemi Emem-Akpan

“For good, Mum. This time, I’m leaving him for good.” Theresa is gripping the baby too tightly, and the boy is squirming but not crying, as if he senses his mother’s anguish and does not want to add to it.

Gently, Marie prises her daughter’s fingers away from her grandson’s torso, holds him against her chest.

“Come in Theresa.”

Still grumbling, sometimes cursing, Theresa obliges her mother and steps into the cool foyer of the home where she’d grown up. The sight of her mother’s faded gingham upholstery cools her down somewhat, stops her heart from racing with so much fury.

In the kitchen, Marie brings out a huge pitcher of cold tea and pours both of them a glassful each. The baby gets a soft biscuit.

“He’s so inconsiderate. Yeah, he’s the only one working and earning money for the home, but does he forget that I take care of the home, am a permanent servant to Joshua? Imagine, he asks me why I forgot to pick his suits from the drycleaner’s yesterday?”

Marie hides a smile behind her glass, is amazed that she has raised such a flighty.

“Is that what he did?”

“Yes. Am I his housekeeper or something?”

For the umpteenth time, Marie is glad that her daughter’s family had decided to settle close by. This has enabled her to put out many a fires before her son-in-law even became aware of them.

“That can be insulting, ehn?” Marie finds a good place to start.

“Of course it is. I’m sure Dad never treated you like that?”

Marie is no longer smiling, but she manages to keep herself from frowning. Perhaps Theresa had been too young at the time to understand that her parents had struggled with their marriage or perhaps she’s just chosen to romanticise her dead father.

“No, he didn’t treat me like that.” For a particularly bizarre period in their marriage, he’d treated her worse. He never beat her but would withdraw into days of absolute silence. He wouldn’t speak to her, wouldn’t touch her meals, wouldn’t even look at her. And he wouldn’t talk to his young daughter too. It took Marie a whole year to find out he had a mistress and two children outside the home.

She remembers those dreary years clearly. She’d lost two sons in a fire incident at their preschool, had almost lost her infant daughter too because she had been too grieved and too ill to breastfeed her, had turned to her husband for comfort only to find he was totally emotionally absent from her.

The five years that took them to get back together were dark, lonesome, and absolutely heart-wrenching. It was in those days of deep anguish that she’d met with Jesus and adopted a Bible verse that would tide her over every other heartache she would face.

Despite her hard life, Marie’s had a fullness of joy in her life that defies comprehension or explanation.

In silence, Marie refills her glass and takes a sip of the sweet liquid before speaking again. “There are certain things you need to know, Theresa. The first thing is that things are not always as bad as they initially seem. And there are things that look good on the outside but are really quite rotten on the inside. Your marriage is an example of the first, and my marriage to your father was at a time a mirror of the second.”

She waits for comprehension to hit Theresa, sees only a familiar stubbornness on her face.

“Andrew loves you, you know.”

“Yeah yeah, but why does he treat me like trash?”

“He doesn’t. And you must be careful not to allow his words get you worked up all the time. He means well.”

Theresa doesn’t reply, bends over and wipes a glob of biscuit off Joshua’s face. When she straightens, she’s smiling that smile that melts Marie’s heart again and again. “I don’t know how you put up with me. I’m a regular pain, am I not?”

Marie smiles back, says nothing.

“But he doesn’t have to talk to me in that commanding tone, does he?”

Marie rolls her eyes, smiles wider and returns to her tea.

 

 

 

 

* In everything give thanks. For this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

I Thessalonians 5:18

 

Posted in Contemporary, Life commentary, Short story

A legacy of unremoved shoes

A legacy of unremoved shoes

© Folakemi Emem-Akpan

 

The day had begun to shorten, the sun slipping behind the mountains of Sopot. Yet, the mourners would not leave. To one side, Djordje and Jovana held hands, forgotten by all.

 

The previous year, they’d lost their father and their lives had suddenly shrunk to the perimeters of their home. In a culture where the whole village was extended family, where there were no differences between sibling and cousin, their mother had begged to differ. And she had made enemies, uncles and aunts only tolerating the family because of Bojan’s goodness.

 

When Bojan died, all pretenses of kindness died. The village could now officially ignore Dejana and her children.

 

Then three months ago, a strange illness took Dejana. It wasted her body, loosened her tongue. Djordje tended her as best as he could, but there is only so much a ten-year-old boy can do. Sometimes, he was assisted by someone bathed afresh in the milk of human kindness. Mostly, he had no help.

 

Then she died.

 

That she had been hugely disliked did not discourage the mourners from coming, did not stop them from spreading salads and roasted meats around the gravestone.

 

Djordje stared at the several dishes of cevapcici lining his mother’s eternal bedplace and felt his stomach rumble. All through his mother’s sickness, he and his sister lived solely on proja and kajmak, the most basic Serbian staples. Delicacies like cevapcici were another matter entirely.

 

He felt a squeeze, turned to face Jovana who was only six, and was jolted by the haggardness of her face. She looked not much different from their mother before she died.

 

“Jovanka,” He said her pet name almost reverently, “Are you okay?”

 

She chewed at a corner of her lip, the way she was wont to do at difficult times. Then she whispered the question that had become lodged in her heart since their Ma was lowered into the ground. “Who will take care of us now?”

 

Reality hit Djordje, settled like bile in his stomach. For want of an answer, he echoed Jovana’s action, biting his lips until he felt the metallic taste of blood.

 

Beside them, two women were talking in earnest, both dressed in the traditional outfit of plain blouse, long black skirt, and head scarf.

 

“You know what I hated most about her. She never removed her shoes when she came to our house.”

 

“And she never chose a kum and kuma for her children. How on earth?”

 

Djordje felt his intestines tighten, pulling his stomach into the worst possible ache. Not for the first time in his life, he wished his mother had been friendlier, more invested in the customs of their people.

 

He took a deep breath, ran his hand over his sister’s tresses, and stood. There was no sense in prolonging the inevitable.

 

Their uncle Andrija was standing at a far corner of the graveyard, sipping from a bottle of brandy. He was the greediest of their relatives, hence the easiest.

 

Djordje sank low to his feet, held onto his uncle’s trousers and said the words he had rehearsed over and over again.

 

“Please let us come and live with you. You can have the house and Pa’s farmland.” When he squeezed his eyes, the required amount of tears leaked out. Inside him, his heart groaned and shattered into a million pieces.

 

Andrija settled his face into a mixture of scorn and pity, then broke out into a large smile. “Of course, of course.”

 

His mission accomplished, Djordje went back to his sister and was surprised to find himself crying. Real tears this time. Tears for his gentle father whose only mistake in life had been to marry a bickerer, tears for his mother whose spirit had finally been broken at the end, tears for his orphaned sister, and finally tears for himself. For having to grow up before his time, for losing his childhood so soon, so brutally.

 

He slipped his hand into his sister’s and answered her question, “We’ll stay with Uncle Andrija, and I’ll take care of you no matter what.”

 

 

 

Cevapcici – Highly-spiced meat patties

Proja – Cornbread

Kajmak – A kind of diary spread

Kum – Godfather

Kuma – Godmother

* Serbia is a landlocked territory in the Balkan Peninsula of Eastern Europe.

 

 

Jer 31:29 – When that time comes, people will no longer say, ‘The parents have eaten sour grapes, but the children’s teeth have grown numb.’